I am delighted to share another beautiful submission to the Monk in the World guest post series from the community. Read on for Anne Knorr’s reflection,”Ebb Tides.”
Walking along the rocky shoreline during ebb tide, an eighty-five year old man named Billy Proctor can often be seen in tall black rubber boots looking for treasures washed ashore. It is a ritual he has observed since childhood and over the years he has collected a myriad of hidden jewels; large aqua-marine glass buoys, chiseled arrow heads, ancient metal jewelry from the “original people” as he calls them, colorful bottles of all shapes and sizes, China dishes, and even a scientifically verified meteorite. He was one of the most delightful characters I met in the Broughton Islands on my way north to Alaska with my husband aboard our boat, Mystic Dancer. With an infectious smile and tales a mile long of his life on this rugged piece of land and the surrounding sea, he welcomes travelers passing through the archipelago. He is actually quite a legend in the area having lived on the islands most of his life earning a living by fishing, trapping, and logging.
Hundreds of visitors pass through his quaint museum at Echo Bay and are greeted with a warm welcome and of course a story or two. His museum includes a replica of a trappers cabin entirely built from one cedar tree. Inside the main building, neat rows of shelves and glass cases display his wares. Rays of sunlight shine through paned windows lighting up the countless bottles stacked on a high shelf – amber, deep green, and sea blue. I was touched by this man’s ability to find intriguing cast-offs covered in the muck and sand on the ocean floor and his patience in searching out whatever treasure might appear, each trinket holding the remnant of an unknown story. The word treasure means, “to have great value,” but it also carries with it a sense that it is not easily obtained.
Ebb tides bring out hunters of another kind, as well. Bear comb the shores in search of clams, crow and bald eagles hover over the mud flats looking for morsels to nourish themselves, and muscles cling to the edges of rocks, their black shells exposed by the receding water. When I consider the ebb-tide experiences in my life, it is nice to think there is something of value to be discovered in dark and mucky places. Many of the most important lessons I’ve learned in life and self-awareness have come as the result of difficult experiences, the one’s where I’ve failed miserably, embarrassed myself, or encountered devastating grief. After my brother’s death, I learned I am more resilient than I realized, that happiness is possible even after an overwhelming loss, and that a reservoir of compassion is available within myself I hadn’t known was there.
But like Billy Proctor, I had to walk along the barren shore many mornings without any treasure to be found – accepting the current bleakness in my heart and the random timing of when something of value would wash ashore, all the while knowing the walking and the looking were necessary parts of the process. Words from a verse in the Bible would often play in my mind, I will give you the treasures of darkness and hidden wealth in secret places, like a mantra promising my heart future blessings. My son had a similar ebb-tide insight while studying abroad in Ireland. He felt completely displaced and terribly homesick, yet he knew he needed to stay where he was. In the four months he was away I noticed a palatable shift in his demeanor. He exuded a new confidence in himself that replaced the tentativeness he carried with him to Ireland. It was as if he’d left home a boy and returned a man. He had found an inner resource, a solid place to stand amidst the turmoil. I find wisdom in the rhythms of nature; like the ebb and flow of the ocean tide, the daily rising and falling of the sun, and the revolving seasons, my life is continually moving and transforming too. And somehow that is reassuring. So now when the ebb tides come into my life again, as they surely will, I’ll take my cue from Billy Proctor and patiently comb the terrain with an eye out for the hidden treasure awaiting my discovery.
Anne Knorr is an architect, spiritual director and author of the book Sacred Space at Home that explores the connection between architecture and spirituality. She lives in Boulder, Colorado with her husband Bill and spends several months a year on their boat, Mystic Dancer, exploring the coastal waterways of the Northwest.